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How Does Aging Affect Our Muscles?

How does aging affect our muscle health? House Call Doctor investigates in this second part of our three-part series.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
September 8, 2017

This is the second in a three-part series on muscle health that I have done in partnership with Ensure.  However, the opinions I express in these articles are all my own. 

According to a study in The Lancet, life expectancy is indeed increasing; people are living longer and longer. Plus, the upcoming elderly population is the most rapidly growing segment as our Baby Boomers age. It’s more vital than ever to learn how to keep our bodies strong and healthy with longer life expectancies. But unfortunately, muscle mass diminishes with age. We 

lose about 1% of our muscle mass every year starting at about age 50. As a result, we have to work even harder to keep our muscles healthy throughout time.

In the last article in my series on muscle health, we reviewed the various types of muscles in our bodies and what they do. A quick review: skeletal muscle is responsible for movement, posture, balance, and gait – these are all vital components in our aging population as falls, loss of height, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, tremor, and other chronic health conditions all come into play. With muscle breakdown, our strength is diminished – leg strength typically declines before arm strength. Our endurance decreases as our muscles become more easily fatigued. Studies have also linked weak muscle strength with increased risk for mortality even.

But did you know that even your organs contain muscle tissue? Smooth muscle, the second type of muscle type, coats the lining of our blood vessels, gastrointestinal, and urinary tracts, and even the uterus. Lastly, our heart muscle, referred to as cardiac muscle, functions to pump blood to our brain and organs.

Muscle tissue is also responsible for fat, glucose, and most importantly, protein metabolism. It absorbs the protein you ingest in your diet and uses it to build and strengthen. So if the protein intake is diminished through your food sources, then it begins to break down its own protein particles to produce energy--hence leading to shrinking muscle mass.

As you can see, maintaining muscle health is critical as we grow older.  Unfortunately, it becomes a greater challenge to maintain muscle health with age. Greater physical effort and proper nutrition becomes key. Here are some of the main ways that the aging process affects our muscle health:

Decreased physical activity:

Diminished use of skeletal muscle will eventually shrink the size of the muscle cells, and if it is prolonged, it can eventually cause loss of these cells entirely (we refer to this as “atrophy”).

Hormonal shifts:

In addition to lack of use, hormone shifting with age can also impact our muscles and predispose to decreased muscle mass.

Diminished blood flow:

Decreased blood flow to the muscle due to cardiovascular disease progresses with age, and decreased blood flow to the tissue leads to muscle breakdown.

Fatty infiltration:

Fatty cells then infiltrate the muscles as a result of this decreased mass.

Denervation:

Nerve endings stop feeding the muscle, causing diminished sensation and nerve loss as we age.

Slow Recovery:

Muscle mass recovery after injury or illness is slower with age. Once muscle is broken down, repairing and recovering it is more difficult to achieve.

Genetics

Genetics also plays a role. Look to your parents and older siblings to better understand your genetic muscle propensity.

Inadequate nutrition:

In those who do not consume sufficient protein/caloric intake, as our fatty cells are used up for energy, the next thing to go is actually muscle tissue. Vitamin D has also been shown to be vital for muscle health with aging.

A well-rounded, protein-rich diet is critical to the maintenance of muscle health. If you are struggling to consume enough protein in your diet, one way you can add more is with the help of Ensure High Protein. Each serving contains sixteen grams of protein, plus 160 calories.

Now that we know what muscle is and why it’s crucial to maintain muscle health, plus how the aging process affects our muscles, stay tuned next time to learn what we can do to improve our muscle health.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3060646/

https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/58/10/M911/534906/Review-Article-Sarcopenia-Causes-Consequences-and

https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article/39/4/412/8732/Sarcopenia-European-consensus-on-definition-and

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/4/1123S.full

https://academic.oup.com/fampra/article/29/suppl_1/i44/531163/Sarcopenia-in-the-elderly

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3988678/

 

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